To better understand this article, please refer to my previous article, “The Pilgrimage” dated May 19,2006.
This article is a continuation of my narrative of my vacation last December.
“Veni, Vidi, Vici” (I came, I saw, I conquer) – Julius Caesar
I’ve finally made it. I’ve finally reached the top of the Great Wall after more than two years. It was a great feeling to finally have reached the top of the Wall except that the feeling I had is somewhat “different” from what I’ve expected after completing such a “momentous achievement”. The feeling that I was expecting if I had completed the climb is one wherein the confetti dropped from the sky, everybody is clapping their hands while standing, cheerleaders dancing and hooraying (figuratively speaking although it would be nice to actually see cheerleaders dancing). The feeling should be like winning the NBA championship all by yourself ala Michael Jordan. However, the feeling was nothing like that. Not even close. Don’t get me wrong, I felt great on reaching the top but not “too great”. Maybe it’s the freezing weather that seemed to ruin almost everything nice. Maybe, it is the fact that we started the climb mid – way at the Badaling section of the Great Wall (八達嶺長城, located high up in the Badaling mountain) as opposed to Ju Yong Guan section of the Great Wall (居庸關長城), which starts from the level plain way, way down below. As such the climb at the Badaling section of the Great Wall is less arduous and hence, less challenging and therefore, less inspiring. In addition to that, I don’t get to see Mao’s famous words etched in stone, “不到長城非好漢” (if you haven’t been to the Great Wall, You’re not a man), which happens to further dampen the almost listless atmosphere. Or maybe it’s because I don’t have a little girl by the name Megan with me during my recent climb. Although my sister and the youngsters are good companies during the climb, I nevertheless missed Megan……. A lot. Anyway, it was the 28th of December, 2008, a Sunday and also the third day of our trip. We got up early, had our breakfast at the hotel. I was particularly “giddy” that morning since I was really looking forward to the climb at the Great Wall and fulfill my vow to come back and finish the climb. At the lobby, I received a gift from the Lionel, our tour guide; a manuscript of his half finish short story. So far, that morning seemed to be going quite well and I took it as a promising sign that things would be splendid that day but as the day progressed, things didn’t really live up to my expectation. The first thing that somewhat “ruined” my supposed splendid Sunday was a trip to the same old jade factory that I’d gone during my first trip to the Great Wall some two and half years ago. Like the first, it was supposed to be a “brief” detour but actually took like a good solid two hours. What a dampener. After that supposedly “brief detour” turned into a two hour shopping bonanza, we headed to the Great Wall. I was fully expecting to revisit the site of the Great Wall at Ju Yong Guan section (居庸關長城) where I made my first climb but instead, we went to the Badaling section. There was nothing wrong with visiting the Great Wall at Badaling per se except that at Badaling Great Wall, the climb is less arduous because the slope is less steep and walkway of the Wall is comparatively wider than that at Ju Yong Guan plus the climb to the topmost battlement of the Wall is relatively short. Furthermore, as mentioned, Mao’s stone inscribed “inspirational” challenge was nowhere to be seen at Badaling, which is to me a real bummer. Since, the Badaling section of the Great Wall is situated on top of the Badaling mountain range as compared to the Ju Yong Guan section Great Wall, which is way down below the narrow plain, we took the cable car up to the Badaling section. Now, the cable car ride might look every bit “dangerous” because you’re travelling high up the rocky mountain slope and hanging in the mid air without an engine or a parachute except for two cables isn’t really what we call a “fun” ride. Nevertheless, the ride is rather smooth with no surprises at all. This is because the cable cars are built on the southern slope of the Badaling Mountain and the mountain served as the barrier to the scouring wind from the north and thus spares the riders from the “thrill” of the ride. Once we arrived at the mid – section of the Badaling Great Wall, I, without delay began my quest to “conquer” the top of the Great Wall. The temperature that day was like the last two days at -8OC. At that temperature, the weather could be appropriately described as Freezing. I had to wear a thermal shirt and 2 sweaters and a winter coat on top of it just to keep me warm. But that doesn’t help with my bottoms, my foot, my hands, and my ears never mind the face. Even with thick gloves, heavy pants over a thermal pant, two socks, and a scarf wrapped around my mouth, the “cold” still got into me. The cold got a lot worst at where we are starting, which is at the mid – section of the Badaling Great Wall. Thankfully though, my sister and I bought some heating pouches, which are actually a pouch filled with pyro – chemical giving off heat once you rub the pouch. In this way, I got to keep myself from turning to an icicle but that further put a dampener on my already ebbing enthusiasm about the climb. Nevertheless, I persevere and started the relatively “short” climb (around an hour or less) to the top of the Great Wall. Got quite a work out there (and in the process generated enough body heat to keep me warm but not sweating) but nothing dexterous even for my “lazy limbs” (only got to stop for rest once or twice during the climb). At any rate, I find the climb rather uneventful and as such, by the time I’d reached the top, I felt rather drab yet the same time victorious, for I finally reached the top. Even so, I felt that victory isn’t sweet at all but a bit hollow. It is then I realized I missed little Megan. Somehow I get to realized that there are more important things than reaching the top or more aptly, there are things that make the climb to the top much more worthwhile. Funny, how I didn’t realize it beforehand or have forgotten it. Anyway, regardless how I felt that moment, I cannot but be awed by the sheer magnificence of the scenery atop the Great Wall. The Badaling section of the Great Wall is reputedly one of the most picturesque scenic spot of the Great Wall next only to the Simatai Great Wall (司馬台長城, which in my knowledge have just been repaired and opened to the public pretty recently around February of 2009?). And from my vantage point, one could truly appreciate the reason why the Chinese called the Great Wall as Wan Li Chang Cheng (萬里長城) literally, the Ten Thousand Mile Long Wall. The Wall seemed to have extended towards the ends of the earth as far as the eyes could see. Even in winter, the beauty is still ubiquitous. The scenery is both breathtaking and at the same time, eerily perilous. I mean lest we not forget that the Great Wall is first and foremost a military installation built by the emperors to keep out the marauding barbarians of the north from invading the farmlands to the south of the Great Wall. Soldiers of the ages past who had manned the Wall against the hordes must have drank the scenery of the Great Wall all day and all night. They probably like us must have been awed by the grandeur of the place but unlike us, tourists, these ancient warriors almost constantly felt the dread, the danger of an approaching storm over from the north. At the top of the Great Wall where I was, the place is crowded with tourists, boisterous and noisy but back then, the place is populated with only but a handful of soldiers and they are isolated from the rest of the world. The dreadful yet picturesque silence must have been deafening then. One could only imagine such whilst at the top of the Wall and in the middle of the jousting crowd eager to get their picture taken. Well, I’m a tourist, not a soldier, a historian maybe but definitely not a soldier and so I do what every tourist do, take my picture. But before I made my way down the Wall, I did what I did the last time I was here. First, I looked out in the open on side of the Wall, put both of my hands in my mouth and shouted, “I AM THE KING OF THE WORLD!” (well, that felt great indeed) The second thing that I’d done was to etch my name on the Wall and preserved it for all eternity except that I forget to bring a marker or a knife (now I know what I forgot to pack in my suitcase). And so, I had to look for “something” to use to “write” on the Wall. I got to borrow a pen from one of the youngsters and I lightly “wrote” on the white borders in between the bricks, _ _ _ 到此一遊 (for those who are visiting the Badaling Great Wall and wanted to see the “historical mark” for themselves, looked up at the left side of the Wall at the top, upper portion of that wall). As I was “writing” my mark, one of the youngsters “questioned” me as to why I’m “vandalizing”. Well, my reply then was graffiti as I was doing then provided a very important historical value. You see in all archaeological excavation sites, a lot of the artifacts, which are basically everyday things being used at that time are long gone. They are destroyed, stolen, or degraded. Graffiti on the other hand are left intact and provided valuable clues to an archaeologist about the social environment of the times. Besides, everybody is doing it (putting their names on the Wall) and they are aplenty. As they say, “When in Rome, Do as the Romans Do”, si fueris Romae, Romano vivito more, si fueris alibi, vivito sicut ibi (if you are in Rome, live in the Roman way; if you are elsewhere, live as they do there). However, I wasn’t quite satisfied with the markings I’d made. For one, it is quite light. Hardly visible. As such, I decided to make a second marking. This time I used the softdrink can pull up pin as an etching tool and finally “carve” the same words on the Wall (same section as the first except that it is at the lower portion about on the third brick from the floor). Having done that, I take one good look at the scenery and began my way back. Someday, I’ll be back for a third climb and by then, I know what it would take to “reach the top” and I’ll be prepared for it.